59 Great Quotations on Family from Authors All Over the Map


August 2, 2015 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

Somber, sarcastic, sentimental; frank, funny, furious; petty, problematic, or profound – here’s the best of what I found on family for #AUTHORity August.   I am careful to include at least as many quotations from women as men, as this is often a balance that is missing from quotation collections, but other than that, and starting out with a particular favorite, these are in no particular order. I did, however, take a perverse pleasure in putting Reinhold Niebuhr next to Erma Bombeck.


Poster for Polish production of T. S. Eliot's The Family Reunion (Zjazd Rodzinny) by Franciszek Starowieyski, 1963

Poster for Polish production of T. S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion (Zjazd Rodzinny) by Franciszek Starowieyski, 1963. Courtesy Bates College Museum of Art

There’s no vocabulary

For love within a family, love that’s lived in

But not looked at, love within the light of which

All else is seen, the love within which

All other love finds speech.

This love is silent. —T.S. Eliot


Writers will happen in the best of families.— Rita Mae Brown


Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice.—Reinhold Niebuhr


I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.—Erma Bombeck


I decided very early to love my family, and to see in each of its members something rare and good as well as the miserable and painful things that were obvious. I do not think that in writing of them I ever lied. I merely chose to notice in them the things I cherished and preferred, and to refer to the things I didn’t cherish with humor and charity. —William Saroyan, The Bicycle Rider in Beverly Hills


I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.—Marie Curie


In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.—Lao Tzu


The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small. ― Mother Teresa


All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.—Leo Tolstoy


Happy or unhappy, families are all mysterious. We have only to imagine how differently we would be described – and will be, after our deaths – by each of the family members who believe they know us. — Gloria Steinem


Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern, like bad wallpaper. ― Friedrich Nietzsche


His eyes went again to the crucifix above his head, reflected in the mirror. The strained arms, the arched spine. All that effort to open the gates of heaven for us and we (he thought) probably spend our first hours among the heavenly hosts settling old scores with relatives. ― Alice McDermott, After This


The greatest thing in family life is to take a hint when a hint is intended-and not to take a hint when a hint isn’t intended.― Robert Lee Frost


I missed my mother’s father. Is that even possible? Maybe I had fallen asleep for a while. Maybe I was like her, just waking up and looking for him to be there. I wondered how it would have changed things for all of us if he had stayed home the day he was supposed to die in his car. How his decision to go out for something small, something like coffee or orange juice which everyone could have done without, had changed things for all of us. —Ann Patchett


After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations. ― Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance


Do not expect too much from your child and she will grow in your love… But if you push her too much, you will push her away. A child is not yours to own but to raise. She may not be what you will have her to be, but she will be what she has to be. Remember what they say, that ‘Wood may remain twenty years in the water, but it is still not a fish. —Jane Yolen, Sister Light, Sister Dark


One day you will do things for me that you hate. That is what it means to be family. ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated


My mother has a gap between her two front teeth. So does Daddy Gunnar.
Each child in this family has the same space connecting us.
― Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming


When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change ― Thích Nhất Hạnh


Your ancestors are rooting for you. —Eleanor Brownn


You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ― Frederick Buechner


You don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.

The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted – but rather, vastly enriched.  —Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign


Real love amounts to withholding the truth, even when you’re offered the perfect opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings ― David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim


Freya Stark Among the Herki in Kurdistan

Freya Stark Among the Herki in Kurdistan

Absence is one of the most useful ingredients of family life, and to do it rightly is an art like any other. — Freya Stark


If a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relative to do the business. ― William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair


The family uses people, not for what they are, nor for what they are intended to be, but for what it wants them for— its own uses. It thinks of them not as what God has made them, but as the something which it has arranged that they shall be.—Florence Nightengale, Cassandra


There was once a king, and he had a queen; and he was the manliest of his gender, and she was the loveliest of hers. They had nineteen children, and were always having more. ― Charles Dickens


She had been to her Great-Aunt Willoughby’s before, and she knew exactly what to expect. She would be asked about her lessons, and how many marks she had, and whether she had been a good girl. I can’t think why grownup people don’t see how impertinent these questions are. Suppose you were to answer:

“I’m the top of my class, auntie, thank you, and I am very good. And now let us have a little talk about you, aunt, dear. How much money have you got, and have you been scolding the servants again, or have you tried to be good and patient, as a properly brought up aunt should be, eh, dear?”

Try this method with one of your aunts next time she begins asking you questions, and write and tell me what she says. ― E. Nesbit


At sixteen, you still think you can escape from your father. You aren’t listening to his voice speaking through your mouth, you don’t see how your gestures already mirror his; you don’t see him in the way you hold your body, in the way you sign your name. You don’t hear his whisper in your blood. ― Salman Rushdie, East, West


Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back. ― Mignon McLaughlin, The Complete Neurotic’s Notebook


Home is where they want you to stay longer. ― Stephen King


Grandma Donna passed the oyster stuffing and asked my father straight out what he was working on, it being so obvious his thoughts were not with us. She meant it as a reprimand. He was the only one at the table who didn’t know this, or else he was ignoring it. He told her he was running a Markov chain analysis of avoidance conditioning. He cleared his throat. He was going to tell us more.

We moved to close off the opportunity. Wheeled like a school of fish, practiced, synchronized. It was beautiful. It was Pavlovian. It was a goddamn dance of avoidance conditioning.

― Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


Haruki and Yoko Murakami

Haruki and Yoko Murakami. Courtesy Huffington Post

(When asked “Was the model for Midori (a character in Norwegian Wood) modeled after your wife?”) I showed your message to my wife. She got mad and yelled: “What would make them think I was the model for Midori?!” She told me to fix the misunderstanding immediately, so that’s why I’m writing this reply now. Please stop causing problems in my household. Thank you. ― Haruki Murakami


In the old days, trouble was kept in the family, which is still the best place for it, not that there’s ever a best place for trouble. Why stir everything up again after that many years, with all concerned tucked, like tired children, so neatly into their graves? —Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin


Everyone should be forcibly transplanted to another continent from their family at the age of three. ― Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica


Over and over we lose this sense of feeling we are wholly in our skins by means already named as well as through extended duress. Those who toil too long without respite are also at risk. The soulskin vanishes when we are not paying attention to what we are really doing and particularly the cost to us.

We lose the soulskin by becoming too involved with ego, by being too exacting, perfectionistic, or unnecessarily martyred, or driven by a blind ambition, or by being dissatisfied – about self, family, community, culture, world – and not saying or doing anything about it, or by pretending we are an ending source for others, or by not doing all we can to help ourselves. Oh, there are as many ways to lose the soul skin as there are women in the world.

The only way to hold on to this sensual soulskin is to retain an exquisitely pristine consciousness about its value and uses. — Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype


TV families and your own are hard to tell apart, except yours isn’t interrupted every six minutes by commercials and theirs don’t get bogged down into nothingness, a state where nothing happens, no skit, no zany visitors, no outburst on the laugh track, nothing at all but boredom and a lost feeling, especially when you get up in the morning and the moon is still shining and men are making noisy bets on the first tee. ― John Updike, Rabbit at Rest


The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people – no mere father and mother – as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. —Pearl S. Buck


Every artist is a man who has freed himself from his family, his nation, his race. Every man who has shown the world the way to beauty, to true culture, has been a rebel, a ‘universal’ without patriotism, without home, who has found his people everywhere. ― Chaim Potok, My Name Is Asher Lev


Family likeness has often a deep sadness in it.—George Eliot, Adam Bede


Blood is thicker than water, I know, but it’s unnatural stuff to drink so much of. (“The Wife Of Ted Wickham”) ― A.E. Coppard, Dusky Ruth: And Other Stories


Photo by from Oprah

Photo: Lynn Davis. From an interview on Oprah.com

I never wanted to live in that place again, but if for some reason I was forced to live there again, I would never accept the harsh judgments made against me by people whose only power to do so was that they had known me from the moment I was born.—Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy


I gang my own gait and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties I have never lost an obstinate sense of detachment, of the need for solitude — a feeling which increases with the years. ― Albert Einstein, The World As I See It


Maintaining connections with family and community across class boundaries demands more than just summary recall of where one’s roots are, where one comes from. It requires knowing, naming, and being ever-mindful of those aspects of one’s past that have enabled and do enable one’s self-development in the present, that sustain and support, that enrich. One must also honestly confront barriers that do exist, aspects of that past that do diminish. —Bell Hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black


Summertime, oh, summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweetfern and the juniper forever and ever . . . the cottages with their innocent and tranquil design, their tiny docks with the flagpole and the American flag floating against the white clouds in the blue sky, the little paths over the roots of the trees leading from camp to camp. This was the American family at play, escaping the city heat. ― E.B. White


The lamp sizzled as it burned. It made everything seem close and safe, a little family circle they all knew and trusted. Outside this circle lay everything that was strange and frightening, and the darkness seemed to reach higher and higher and further and further away, right to the end of the world.  —Tove Jansson, Moominpappa at Sea


At home, my father ate all the most burnt pieces of toast. ‘Yum!’ he’d say, and ‘Charcoal! Good for you!’ and ‘Burnt toast! My favorite!’ and he’d eat it all up. When I was much older he confessed to me that he had not ever liked burnt toast, had only eaten it to prevent it from going to waste, and, for a fraction of a moment, my entire childhood felt like a lie, it was as if one of the pillars of belief that my world had been built upon had crumbled into dry sand. ― Neil Gaiman


Between Barton and Delaford, there was that constant communication which strong family affection would naturally dictate;—and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands. — Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility


If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.—George Bernard Shaw


Photo courtesy Erdrich

Photo: Persia Erdrich.  Courtesy The Daily Beast

The contents of a house can trigger all sorts of revisions to family history. —Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum


A father is a reality-concealing machine, a machine for dishing up lies to kids, and that isn’t even the worst of it: secretly he believes that he represents reality. ― Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea


When I wrote ‘We Were The Mulvaneys,’ I was just old enough to look back upon my own family life and the lies of certain individuals close to me, with the detachment of time. I wanted to tell the truth about secrets: How much pain they give, yet how much relief, even happiness we may feel when at last the motive for secrecy has passed.—Joyce Carol Oates


Even when you have learned not to look at families nor listen to them and have learned not to answer letters, families have many ways of being dangerous. ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition


my mother
is pure radiance.

she is the sun
i can touch
and kiss

and hold
getting burnt.
― Sanober Khan


The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney into any house at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born. ― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics


A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it. —Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club


…we need to bear in mind that our opinion of other people, our ties with friends or family, have only the semblance of fixity and are, in fact, as eternally fluid as the sea. ― Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way


When we’re dealing with the people in our family – no matter how annoying or gross they may be, no matter how self-inflicted their suffering may appear, no matter how afflicted they are with ignorance, prejudice or nose hairs – we give from the deepest parts of ourselves.—Anne Lamott


I carry my roots with me all the time rolled up, I use them as my pillow. ― Francisco X. Alarcón


Poetas y Pintores: Artists Conversing with Verse › Exhibition Pieces › Untitled Piece by Malaquias Montoya accompanying Francisco X. Alarcón’s To Those Who Have Lost Everything

Which quotations did you like best? If you have a favorite author’s quotation on family that I’ve not included here, feel free to add it in the comments.

24 thoughts on “59 Great Quotations on Family from Authors All Over the Map

  1. You missed my very favorite. Richard Bach He writes, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

    This quote holds deep meaning for me… :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Diana says:

    the ones that resonated with me were #7, 19, 22 (the second paragraph), 33, and 55 & 56 which seem to go so well together. The cute/funny ones (like Erma Bombeck’s) I enjoyed, but the other more serious/insightful ones were more satisfying.

    I don’t have a favourite quote, but did discover a startling thing about my family several years ago (which I may or may not have mentioned somewhere in passing already). I grew up in a family of 7 children, with the same parents, in the same homes — and we were pretty close in age, so the greatest gap — from first-born to last-born was 9 years. What was that startling fact? That every single one of us grew up in a different family! Our experiences/memories/insights/challenges etc. all overlapped, but were nowhere near cohesive and every single sibling had a vastly different perception of family and family dynamics than did the others.


    • Diana: Thanks for commenting, and sorry to be so late with my replies. you are quite right about every sibling growing up in a different family; that is very true for us, although there are only four. Family dynamics are, of course, hugely affected by birth order. How could they not be? All the same, as I write memories down i often find myself trying to corroborate what I remember against my siblings. Sometimes I can, sometimes I cannot.


  3. Anita Kushwaha says:

    Loved these quotes! 7, 8 and 19 resonated strongly with me. Thanks for sharing. :)


  4. These are spectacular. I’m bookmarking this so I can return and read them. :-)


  5. jan says:

    Great quotes! My favorite is #56 Mary Karr – about the dysfunctional family!


  6. I absolutely love this; thanks for compiling — I too will save these.


  7. Norah says:

    What a lot of quotes! It’s hard to choose when there are so many good ones. I like Neil Gaiman’s.


    • Yes, I thought quotations would be a good way to write an easy post, but it’s also a good way to be obsessive! It actually takes so much work to go through Goodreads (unfortunately, the quotation field there is often used for self-promotion, i think – there are clearly people indexing almost every line of each book by tagging quotations) that you don’t want to lose the good stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        The effort that it takes to locate quotations on a particular topic is obvious. Dedication too, I guess. And you thought it was going to be easy! :)


  8. My son lives 3500 miles away. About five years ago he flew out to the west coast with his fiancee. I gave them scrapbook with all kinds of wise stories and pictures. On the page with all kinds of family photos of his cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, et all.. I added the quote from George Burns “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
    I love reading your posts and even mentioned it in my latest blog http://katespencer17.com/2015/08/04/lovely-blog-award/ Thanks for making me smile today. :)


    • Thank you Kate. That George Burns quotation is one of my favorites. I was a little challenged sometimes in confining my quotations to “authors;” with many witty people, it is hard to tell if the quotation was something said on stage or in an interview, written for performance, or later written down. This is especially true of comedians. And is Ann Landers an “author”? Oh, sometimes i just overthink this stuff!


  9. […] week I opened #AUTHORity August with 59 quotations on family. This week the focus is aging. Both topics are on my mind these […]


  10. […] pondering. The premise is explained in this post. The first post in the series was quotations on family – I had just returned from my family reunion – and the second post on aging. As regular […]


  11. […] authors of varying degrees of fame on topics I happen to be mulling over. So far we have covered family, aging, and reading. The topic this time is memory. You’ll find a couple of my favorite […]


  12. […] authors’ views.  If you haven’t yet, you should follow her on Twitter here. The first week she posted about family, but the second week she posted about aging, a topic I readily identify with both at this time in […]


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